Girls on the Run of Stark County empowers girls to discover and activate their limitless potential and boldly pursue their dreams.
Marvelous, amazing, kookie, jazzy, incredible—each spring hundreds of 3rd-through 8th-grade girls throughout Stark County kick off the Girls on the Run season by choosing a positive adjective to describe themselves. While Girls on the Run is, as the name suggests, a program that promotes running for health & fitness, the program is about so much more.
“Our coaches teach the girls strategies to help them discover and celebrate their unique abilities and beauty,” says Amy Shock, council director for Girls on the Run of Stark County (GOTR Stark). “Building each girl’s confidence is at the core of the program. We want all girls to have the confidence to chase and accomplish their dreams.”
Girls on the Run is a nationwide, nonprofit organization that began in North Carolina in 1996 with 13 girls. Today, the program serves more than 130,000 girls in more than 200 cities in North America. In Stark County, 636 girls participated in 43 after-school and evening programs at various schools and community centers this spring, bringing the total number of girls served to nearly 1,500 since its first season in 2010.
Girls on the Run
With a mission of inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum that creatively integrates running, Girls on the Run is a positive youth development program designed for girls of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Girls are not required to run, but are encouraged to move forward with a positive attitude and their best effort.
“Our focus is on building self-esteem and helping the girls develop a life-long love of running or walking as a way to stay healthy,” says Charity Stewart, development director and GOTR Stark coach. “We want the girls to discover that they already have the power inside them to handle any of the challenges life throws their way.”
Over the course of 10 weeks, Girls on the Run (3rd through 5th grade) and Girls on Track (6th through 8th grade) teams meet twice a week with trained coaches who help them navigate issues such as standing up to bullies, choosing the right friends, celebrating their uniqueness, and dealing with peer pressure. Each 75- to 90-minute lesson weaves the day’s topic throughout discussions, warm-up games, and running-based workouts.
The girls are taught to cheer each other on for giving their best efforts throughout the meeting, reducing the desire to compete and helping girls create strong—sometimes unexpected—connections with all of their teammates.
“During our most recent season, I witnessed two girls who had struggled with getting along with one another throughout their grade school years, to the point where they were separated into different classrooms. They began GOTR clinging to this history, but throughout the program they developed skills which led them to find a connection, grow and mature with regard to how they treat others, and gain a true friendship,” says GOTR coach Jennifer Bergert. “It was incredibly inspiring to see how this program transformed these girls, who had been self-proclaimed ‘enemies’, into friends, by incorporating the lessons they learned and applying them beyond practice, into their daily lives.”
While building self-esteem and positive relationships, the girls also train to complete the season-ending Girls on the Run 5k Run/Walk—the only all-women* 5k in the Ohio Challenge Series. *With the exception of the SoleMale.
The Girls’ Perspective
Here’s what some of the 2014 GOTR girls have learned:
“Never give up on yourself. Ever.”
“I learned that you have to be yourself no matter what.”
“I need to be positive to succeed by believing in myself.”
“I learned that I am okay. No one will bring me down.”
“It’s okay to tell people how you feel.”
“I learned how to handle a bully in a way that doesn’t make you a bully.”
“Be nice to other people and be happy about who I am.”
*Quotes from 2014 post-season surveys. Complete survey results can be viewed at GOTRStarkCty.org
A Coach’s Perspective
The hype of running in the 5k really made a difference to the girls on my team. They really looked forward to lacing up their new shoes, getting their face painted and hair sprayed, and running with their buddy. It was awesome to see the girls come together as a team, run together, and cheer each other on.
Being a special education teacher, it allowed me to coach one of my students and get her involved with other girls in the school. Jade was so excited come race day—in her eyes, this whole event was just for her! Even though we ran an alternate route, she pushed and challenged herself to complete 2 miles—the furthest she has ever gone!
As a first time coach, it was awesome to see each girl’s face as she got closer and closer to that finish line, but seeing Jade cross that finish line was amazing. I can’t wait to coach again next season!
—Coach Kylee Whited, Head Coach of the Allen Elementary GOTR team
The program at Allen was made possible through a generous sponsorship of Mercy Medical Center.
The GOTR 5k
The girls arrive bright and early at the GOTR 5k decked out in the best girl-power running gear—tutus, tiaras, fairy wings, capes, matching tube socks, and more. The teams gather up to help each other paint on girl power stripes and perfect their 5k-day look with vibrant hair paint.
Nervous giggles, words of encouragement, and excitement fill the air as the girls, their coaches, running buddies, and community runners line up in the starting area. The air horn sounds, and they’re off following the course down Market Avenue, through the neighborhood, and onto the Hoover Park Connector Trail. Spectators quickly move from the starting line to the Walsh University track to cheer the runners in. No matter her pace, each GOTR girl is enthusiastically cheered on by the crowd as she makes her way to the finish line.
For many of these girls, completing a 5k seemed impossible at the beginning of the season. Crossing the finish line is a defining moment when the girls realize that even the seemingly impossible IS possible.
Hosting a Program
Potential program hosts from around Stark County must apply online by mid-January to host a program. The host site can be a school or community center that has a safe, dedicated outdoor space for running, as well as an indoor rain location. Each program must have one dedicated GOTR-trained female head coach who attends all weekly meetings, two or three (female or male) assistant coaches, and a way to distribute program flyers. GOTR Stark provides the scripted curriculum, program supplies, and snacks at no cost to each host.
Registration for all sites runs from February 1 to March 1 each year. Fees are based on income and include 5k registration, a program t-shirt, water bottle, snacks, and 20 GOTR lessons. Approximately 40% of all girls receive partial to full scholarships each season. GOTR Stark has never turned a girl away for financial reasons. This policy was only made possible by many generous donors, SoleMates runners, and sponsors and through several annual fundraisers.
As the season-ending celebration of girl power, the GOTR 5k has always been a women-only event, until this year. As part of their 5th anniversary, GOTR Stark held an online auction in late March that provided one man—the SoleMale— the opportunity to be an official runner in the GOTR 5k Run/ Walk. Steve Marrero of Massillon won the coveted title after a heated bidding war that closed on April 5th. His daughter, Olivia—a first year GOTR girl at Sauder Elementary— accompanied the SoleMale as the first official Super Girl.
The SoleMale and Super Girl will hold their titles and make special appearances until the 2015 SoleMale fundraiser is completed in April.
During the 2014 season, nine SoleMates raised nearly $4,000. SoleMates are a team of athletes who pursue individual goals, such as completing a half or full marathon, to raise critically needed funds for GOTR Stark. Plans for the 2015 SoleMates program will be announced later this year.
Details on programs, volunteer opportunities, events, and bringing GOTR to your community center or school are available online at GOTRStarkCty.org.
Girls On the Run Stark County